Race Matters

Follow-up letter: Predicted grades & BME students

Following up on a previous open letter raising concerns about disadvantaged social and ethnic groups and the impact of predicted grades, Runnymede and more than a dozen other signatories (see full list below) sent this letter to the Education Minister today (29 April 2020).

Dear Rt Hon Gavin Williamson MP and Sally Collier,

Equality considerations in relation to Covid-19 cancellation of GCSEs, AS and A levels in 2020

We hope this letter finds you well during this unprecedented Covid-19 crisis. 

On the 2 April 2020 a coalition of race equality organisations, including the Runnymede Trust, and several academic experts wrote an open letter to the Secretary of State for Education. The letter urged the Department to send guidance to teachers, and schools to ensure accurate assessments of exam grades in order to minimise inconsistencies between groups of pupils and schools. 

We also strongly advised university admissions to carefully consider ‘contextualised admissions’ criteria in order to ensure that students from lower socio-economic backgrounds do not lose out from the opportunity to attend more selective universities.

We asked for these measures to be taken because we are aware of research, including evidence cited by the former Education Secretary, Michael Gove in 2012, as well references on the Department of Education’s website, which shows that students from lower socio-economic backgrounds (specifically higher attaining students from lower SES backgrounds), and black and Gypsy, Roma and Irish Traveller students are more at risk of having their final grades under-predicted, compared to their peers from privileged and other ethnic backgrounds. 

We completely understand that the Covid-19 crisis means that the Department for Education, Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) and Ofqual are working in exceptional circumstances; we commend, and broadly welcome many of the measures which have been rolled out to help teachers and schools continue to support children and young people’s learning. But we still have concerns about GCSE and A level grade assessments given that we have not heard back from the Secretary of State for Education, and given Ofqual’s recent statement that Centres will not be required to undertake an equality impact assessment in relation to student grade assessments. 

We are certain you will agree that it is important to have a fair, transparent and robust system in exam grade assessments despite the Covid-19 pandemic. Currently, we do not believe there are sufficient checks and balances within the system to ensure that this will happen. We are, therefore, urging that both the Department for Education and Ofqual to undertake the following measures in order to ensure that the ability and attainment of students from different backgrounds is accurately and fairly reflected: 

To provide teachers with more guidance and support on how to ensure more accurate assessments and ranking of students in order to reduce inconsistencies across groups of pupils in schools and across schools;
Remind schools about their duties under the Public Sector Equality Duty of the Equality Act 2010, and provide schools with guidance on how to undertake Equality Impact Assessments before and after final exam grade assessments. Schools should then provide Ofqual with anonymised pupil data on exam assessments, disaggregated by ethnic group and other protected characteristics (including SEN).

Both Ofqual and exam boards should use both the Government’s guidance to teachers and the equality impact assessment data from schools to support their ‘statistical standardization process’, and take steps to investigate any ethnic and socio-economic disparities between groups.
Ofqual needs to ensure that there is a fair and equitable appeals process which allows students to appeal the grades they have been issued, without putting undue burden of proof on students to re-sit exams. In addition, Ofqual will be aware of research from The Sutton Trust which has shown that since schools closed in March due to Covid-19, nearly twice the proportion of pupils from middle-class backgrounds (30%) have had access to digital learning online, and recorded classes, compared to 16% of pupils from working class backgrounds. This unequal access is likely to impact on preparation for autumn exams, and has implications for ‘equitable redress’ through the current appeals process.
A selection of BME governors, including representatives from the ‘Parents on Board’ group, who can provide expertise in bias, must also be included on Ofqual’s External Advisory Group. 

Once again we would like to thank both the Government and Ofqual for all that you are doing to help teachers, schools, pupils and parents to manage the extraordinary challenges that Covid-19 has created for the education system. We know that you have a lot on your hands, but we believe you will agree with us, nonetheless, that it is important to have a fair and robust exam assessment system which does not disadvantage any group of students.

Yours sincerely,


Dr Zubaida Haque, Runnymede Trust

Parents on Board (network of BME governors and educational board members) including:

Dr Kathlyn Wilson, Chartered Organisational Psychologist, BME governor (Hertfordshire)

Teresa Esan, MBE (Essex) 

Michelle Forde (Havering and Essex County)

Marcia Ore (Hampshire)

Professor David Gillborn, University of Birmingham

Remi Joseph-Salisbury, University of Manchester

Professor Kalwant Bhopal, University of Birmingham

Dr Edie Friedman, The Jewish Council for Racial Equality

Sarah Mann Director Friends, Families and Travellers

Atiha Chaudry, Greater  Manchester BME Network

Kahiye Alim Council of Somali Organisations

Professor Vini Lander Leeds Beckett University

Professor Paul Warmington, University of Warwick

Dr Reza Gholami, University of Birmingham

Lord Simon Woolley, Operation Black Vote

Kirit Mistry - South Asian Health Action

Poornima Karunacadacharan, Race on the Agenda

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